The New Orleans Saints’ 2021 season was by no means a failure. They managed a 9-8 season in a year riddled with injuries and COVID outbreaks, with Sean Payton reestablishing himself as one of the league’s best — and most resourceful — coaches. However, even when healthy, there were some serious issues on the roster for the Saints. They’re carrying those issues into the offseason.
The offense was anemic for large stretches of the season, and several key players at major positions are up for free agency. Here are some of the Saints’ most glaring holes heading into the 2022 offseason.
Marquez Callaway led all Saints receivers with 698 yards, thanks in large part to a strong back half of the season. But even if Michael Thomas is back on the field for New Orleans next year, wide receiver is an issue. The Saints need playmakers outside of Alvin Kamara on the roster, and it shows when looking at the stat sheet. Deonte Harty has been asked to shoulder a lot of the load for the Saints in the deep game, and Tre’Quan Smith only really gets a chance to shine when he’s the third best receiver on the roster.
The good news, of course, is that there are a bevy of strong playmakers coming out of college. Garrett Wilson and Jameson Williams will likely be off the board by the time the Saints pick at No. 18. But the next tier of receivers, Drake London and Chris Olave, could serve the Saints well. It’s time to take a swing and stop digging for gems. Receivers have to get better to give next year’s quarterback a chance.
Which leads into the next need. It’s easy to fantasize about getting complacent and letting Taysom Hill be the guy. After all, he’s 7-2 as a starter in the past two seasons. But if wins and losses aren’t a QB stat when the QB is losing, they can’t be a QB stat when he’s winning. The Saints defense fought tooth and nail for most of those wins, and Jameis Winston, last year’s starter before tearing his ACL, will be a free agent this offseason. This year’s draft class isn’t particularly impressive at quarterback, but whether it’s re-signing Winston or trying to make a big move elsewhere, quarterback has to be addressed.
There’s an emerging trend here. Adam Trautman actually showed significant improvement as last season wore on, but even if he starts at TE again next year, the Saints need someone to spell him. New Orleans is at its best when it can rotate personnel packages in and out, but unless Hill moves back to the occasional TE spot, Trautman is alone there. Sean Payton is enamored with six linemen sets, which isn’t necessarily bad, but the Saints don’t have anyone who can block and catch well on the roster right now.
This is going to be a story for the Saints. They whiff on draft picks so rarely there’s going to be a lot of handwringing over whether it’s time to move on Cesar Ruiz. But with Terron Armstead’s contract expiring, left tackle is the bigger concern. Regardless, Payton will have to find a way to shore up the line while maintaining his flexibility this offseason, whether it’s by re-signing Armstead or looking outside of the organization.
Marcus Williams is coming off of the franchise tag, but he’s such an invaluable part of the Saints defense it’s hard to imagine them letting him go. To tag him again would be 120 percent of last year’s tag, so it’s not completely unfeasible. However, the Saints would likely like to lock him up long-term and keep their defensive corps intact.
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